The Americans: A Burning Ring of Fire

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This week on The Americans – Nina has an awkward reunion, Paige finds out something interesting, Martha confronts Clark, and more history lessons straight from the John Birch Society


With so much storyline jumping, where to start? How about with Nina? Because of her great work getting Evi to confess, her sentence has been reduced to 10 years. Big whoop is her reaction. But wait, Ninotchka, there’s more! She’s eligible for a get-out-of-the-gulag-free card if she cozies up to Baklonov, the scientist Philip kidnapped last season so he could invent the interwebs for the motherland before some liberal Americanski politician claims credit. It’s Nina’s job to get close to him and get “in his head,” by which they mean his pants. The KGB wants to make sure he’s working his hardest and not slacking or secretly building an Iron Man suit or something. Is she game? You bet!


Nina arrives at her new crib. It’s institutional and lacks windows, but hey, that’s Russia for you. On the plus side, there are lamps and toiletries, so it’s definitely a step up. Guess who her new handler is? Vasili, her former boss at the Rezidentura – the one she sexed up and framed. Has he forgiven her? Nope. How’s her assignment going? So far, Baklonov isn’t biting. But how long can he resist her charms?

Picking up where we left off last week, faux anti-apartheid agitator Venter and his little buddy Todd have been brought to some deserted but large industrial site by Joey Ramone, Twiggy, and Ncgogo.

How else would you describe these disguises?

Phillip just got back from cosplaying Professor Snape

Hans is around, too, but staying out of sight. Elizabeth is “interrogating” Todd, telling him, “If you help me, I will help you.” Todd cracks like a dropped egg. He’s all “I’m cold. I wanna go home.” Dude, you can’t even wait for Bad Cop to show up? Nope, he’s already spilling how Venter gave him a bomb, which he was supposed to set off at a trustees meeting in order to discredit the campus anti-apartheid activists, but he never did because he’s really a wuss.

Meantime, Philip is having less luck with Venter. When Elizabeth gives him the news, he goes off to Todd’s dorm room. Hey spies, don’t let me tell you your business but wouldn’t it make more sense to send Hans – you know, the college student – to the dorm for this mission? It’s not like he’s doing anything else right now.

THE AMERICANS: A Burning Ring of Fire

“What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

When Philip comes back with the bomb, Elizabeth is ready to execute Venter, but Ncgogo stops her. He wants to do it “for his brothers” and just happens to have a can of gasoline and a tire. He puts the tire around Venter, declares him guilty, pours gas over it, and “on behalf of the ANC” lights it on fire.

Entirely inappropriate, Ashton.

This is hard even for Elizabeth and Philip to stomach. It’s also yet another example of The Americans totally fucking with history. Necklacing was NEVER endorsed by the ANC, who were a fighting for political change through politics, not violence. Necklacing was a form of vigilantism practiced by black people in the townships on black informers. If Ncgogo was a loyal soldier of the ANC, he would NOT be saying, “This is how we do things,” because it wasn’t. The FIRST recorded necklacing in South Africa happened in 1985 (this season of The Americans is set in 1982), and in that incident the victims were already dead – so the practice of burning victims alive probably came later. After apartheid ended, the ANC-led government pioneered reconciliation, giving amnesty to many white human rights violators. They didn’t seek revenge, and while there certainly were homegrown communists within the ANC, the anti-apartheid movement was not a communist plot.

american 3.8 flames

If you can’t find a tire, just use a history book

Todd, after witnessing the execution, is dehydrated from peeing himself many times over. Elizabeth, who is the boss of both Ncgogo and Philip, decides to let him go. He can’t identify them and won’t be trouble. (It did look like he might have spotted Hans when they brought him out, so this might turn out not to have been her wisest decision.)

Over at the FBI, Martha gets through her interview with Taffet like a pro. He makes it easy by being not-so-great at his job and seems willing to dismiss her as a suspect on account of her being a girl. However, he’s not so easy on Aderholt, a.k.a. The New Guy, whom he accuses of being black and having gone to Berkeley, the home of both free speech and free love. The workday ends with Taffet telling John-Boy, “I’m not saying you’re an incompetent idiot, which I’m totally saying, but if you’d maybe installed a security camera in your office, it wouldn’t have been compromised by the KGB, and I wouldn’t have to interview secretaries and black people.” Then John Boy beats the crap out of the mail robot – making millions of fans who are strangely obsessed with the mail robot very, very happy.

She was secretly thinking of having an office fling with the mail robot, but now thinks he's a bit of a pussy.

She was secretly thinking of having an office fling with the mail robot, but now thinks he’s a bit of a pussy.

Back at the Rezidentura, Arkady gets a call from Oleg’s highly placed daddy, who would like his boy to be sent home. Arkady calls Oleg in and tells him about the conversation, and that he’s used to dealing with stubborn people and isn’t going to send him back. Oleg is happy but reminds his boss that his father is the Minister of Railroads. Arkady – the BEST BOSS EVER – tells him, “So next time I’m home, I won’t be able to ride the trains.” Oh, you two! Get a room, already! (Seriously, anyone else think Arkady likes Oleg as more than as a comrade?)

How has Paige been spending the day? She’s been to the library, looking at microfiche, and she’s found an article about Gregory’s shooting. That’s awesome given there were no search engines and you had to stumble through headlines by date hoping to find something. Bodes well for her future as a spy. She confronts Elizabeth with the news that Gregory was an activist but became a drug dealer, so what’s up with that? Elizabeth tells her not everything is that simple. Paige is like yeah, but you can’t just rob banks and stuff. And by the way, the Gregory storyline was yet another assault on the past, in which The Americans implied the civil rights movement was a commie plot. You know who else believes shit like that?


Yeah, probably them, too.

Clark decides to drop in on the wife. Martha mentions her meeting with Taffet. “Who’s he?” Clark asks. “He’s you.” Good one, Martha. Clark is so busted. Clark doesn’t tell her much, but insists that they are two people who fell in love and he’ll always protect her. He tells her how much she means to him, what a good woman she is, and how much he lurves her. He asks, “Is that enough? Or do you need more than that?” And readers, she falls for it.

Meantime, Elizabeth drops by Gabriel’s. He gives her another tape from her mother, who is still alive because all the women in her line are strong like bull. She tells him that this Kimmi thing is tough for Philip and she wants him to help get Philip’s secret son Misha home from Afghanistan. Gabriel is surprised Philip told her about Misha, as he thought it was their little secret. He tells her he’ll see what he can do.


We end with a spent Clark, who still has his glasses on, looking up at the ceiling after screwing the doubt out of Martha, who is resting beside him. At least she’s still alive, for now.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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